*Before the tip came in Memphis Saturday night, word arrived that Dirk would return to the starting lineup … paired with the news that Tyson Chandler would be unable to go due to illness.
In a way, it was like getting engaged and calling your parents to share the news only to have them tell you they had decided to get divorced.
The negative aspects of that feeling would only grow stronger as Dallas lost its fifth in a row to the Grizzlies by a score of 89-70.
*With the return of Nowitzki, we assumed there would be a readily apparent emotional lift, a shift in disposition from the Mavs. Their best player had returned and the scars of a four-game losing streak, of going 2-7 over the breadth of his absence, would quickly begin to fade.
From the start, this was not the case. Rather than a revived bravado, we again found a team in search of itself … and finding nothing to grasp onto … other than a deepening level of frustration, and a fifth consecutive loss.
*On Saturday, that frustration may have been no more evident than in the return of Nowitzki … cut short when referee Eric Dalen called two quick technical fouls on The Uberman after he continued to argue a call.
Angry over not receiving a whistle as noted Mav-killer Zach Randolph (23 points and 20 rebounds this night) battled for offensive positioning, Dirk failed to show the level of composure we've grown accustomed to from him … and would not overcome his aggravation.
From hitting only two of seven shots on his way to seven points and five rebounds, to looking like a player shaking off the rust of a nine-game absence (it would appear he is Uber but is also, after all, just a Man), this was not the stirring return we'd all hoped for.
"We've pretty much hit rock-bottom," a very solemn Dirk muttered after the game. "We can't get any lower. We have to scratch our way out of it."
That's the big-picture Nowitzki. More specifically: Dalen tossed him with 8:07 to go in the third quarter. Dirk's temper was not right.
How about his sprained knee?
"It's alright,'' said Nowitzki, who wore a sleeve on the knee. "It's not great. I don't think I can really move that much. I've never missed three weeks in my career. Lung-wise, air-wise, I was fine. I was running, I just couldn't really move much, but I think my lungs were decent, I wasn't too gassed. I just need to get the knee closer to 100 percent and then we'll be OK."
Not 100 percent? That's not a trouble spot, we don't guess. But because Mavs management once said they wouldn't let Nowitzki come back until his recovery hit that century mark, maybe it does speak to the trouble the team is presently in.
Hard to have imagined that Dirk's return would amount to what may have been the ugliest in a stretch of ugly games.
*Speaking of The Ugly:
Dallas would score 70 points, a new season-low, and would do so by shooting a season-low 32.4 percent.
Behind the arc, the Mavs hit only six of their 31 attempts, a paltry 19.4 percent.
For the first time since November 2008, Dallas has lost five straight games. As The 75-Member Staff noted Friday after a failure at San Antonio, Dallas hasn't lost six straight since February 1999, Dirk's rookie year.
Dallas held Memphis to 4-of-20 (20 percent) in the second quarter, and could only erase two points from the deficit.
*Still speaking of The Ugly:
Jason Terry continued a season that is amounting to his worst as a Maverick from an efficiency standpoint, by hitting 4-of-14 shots, including 0-of-5 from the arc.
Including the Memphis game, Terry has a field-goal percentage of 43.2, and a three-point percentage of 32.5. Both mark his lowest conversion rates since coming to Dallas.
Perhaps a little more worrisome, this continues a downward trend that began after the 2006-07 season … a trend that has seen his field-goal and 3-point percentages slip (by very small margins at times) in each consecutive year.
*With The Ugly out of the way, wasn't there anything to even pretend it was The Good?
Glowing brightest was the play of Ian Mahinmi, who brought a much needed burst of energy on his way to a career-high 17 points on 6-of-6 shooting in addition to six rebounds in 21 minutes of action.
For portions of the game, Dominique Jones matched the liveliness of Mahinmi, and the two seemed to play at a different speed than the rest of the Mavs.
Jones did enough in the final minutes of the first half to come out and start the second in place of DeShawn Stevenson. However, this move did not pay direct dividends, as Jones went 0-of-5 in the third before giving way to JJ Barea.
Jones would finish with four points on 0-of-6 shooting, six rebounds, two assists and a steal.
It will be interesting to see if Mahinmi's strong effort here will result in a chance to earn minutes Monday against the Pistons.
*Dirk passed Gary Payton on the all-time scoring list to move into sole possession of spot No. 24. Next up, only 377 points away is Clyde Drexler.
*There's no doubt this team misses what Caron Butler brought to the court. What's lacking stands beyond his stats.
His toughness is missed. His fight is missed. His presence is missed. We don't want to turn him into something he wasn't – as Fish said the other day, in some quarters Butler is being treated like that old girlfriend you remember for being pretty … while forgetting that there must've been a reason you broke up with her.
But Tuff Juice was tough and he was cool and the Mavs now lack both.
*It's hard to accept in this bruising moment, but allow the chance for a turnaround some time. We didn't see the immediate emotional impact expected from the return of Dirk, but that's not to say it won't come.
It's a struggle within a battle that is currently being lost, but the fight goes on. Monday will bring another opportunity to begin to right the ship … there may be cracks vomiting up water from the floor, and a hungry, callous ocean of teams waiting to drown a wounded Dallas group, but tomorrow brings another opportunity to take the first steps towards closing the leaks one at a time.
Yeah, that's being optimistic. And that's all The Good you're gonna get in this space.